Thursday, February 19, 2009

Failing Kids? Failing System?

The news has already made its way through a good portion of the educational blogosphere, but I wanted to dedicate a post to the Minnesota principals survey that found that 97% of principals don't think all schools will meet the federal NCLB standards by 2012. Even though this is almost certainly correct (the same survey found that less than 50% of the schools in Minnesota made adequate yearly progress last year), it's being seen as something big - we're just not exactly sure what. From my vantage point, there's three possible ways to read these results: a lack of faith in the kids, a lack of faith in the standards, or a lack of faith in the measurement.

The first and probably most serious reading is that principals don't think their children are able to achieve at baseline competency levels. It goes back to the idea that not all kids are able to achieve at a high level. This would be a major problem. If our educators don't think the kids can achieve, what hope do they have? I'm not saying that every kid should be expected to perform advanced calculus. Heck, I can't even do basic calculus (or even algebra after this long since a math class). But we do need to believe and strive so that every child attains a basic competency that will allow them to succeed in life. If this survey reflects an absence of that belief, then I'm very worried for the children of Minnesota. But maybe that's not it at all.

Maybe the results reflect a lack of faith in the standards. In other words, maybe the standards are set too high (or abstractly) so that kids who do have the skills needed to succeed in life still don't meet those standards. We have to be careful here because following that road could lead to infamous "dumbing down" which is the bane of education reformers everywhere. But maybe it's that the standards don't match the necessary life skills. Or maybe it's not that at all.

Maybe it's a lack of faith in the measurments (tests) themselves. That is to say that kids who are meeting the standards and can demonstrate it in their lives and in the course of normal classroom activities can't do so on the test. This would argue for a rethinking of how we measure academic competency in the classroom.

It's probably not as black and white as all that. Each of the 700 principals who answered the survey probably had their own indvidual reasons for doing so. Likely it was some combination of the factors I described above, but maybe they also had something entirely different.

However, from my perspective this is a cry for help. These are principals who honestly don't think that children across the state are going to be performing at the levels society expects of them in the next five years. Regardless of what their motivations for answering that way are, it's clear that something needs to be done. The principals are telling us that things now aren't working.

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